By BCI
Bar Code India

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Over the last decade, it has brought forward several new medicines and vaccines that have been released with the sole purpose of improving the health of individuals. However, the industry also faces several challenges, particularly in meeting the health demands of millions of people suffering from various ailments. Adherence to strict regulations and compliance requirements is therefore mandatory. And there’s no better way to achieve this than through factory automation, which Industry 4.0 has made possible.

For the uninitiated, Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution, which combines technologies like the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robots, and advanced computing to allow systems to run with little to no human intervention.

Although Industry 4.0 substantially impacts pharmaceutical research, development, production, etc., quality and safety control remain critical for pharma organizations. Today’s R&D-intensive climate has also resulted in rising expenses, forcing drugmakers to raise their costs. This is where automation enters the picture. Thanks to automation, manufacturers can analyze and evaluate quality and safety without giving up product yields or performance.

Need for factory automation in the post-Covid era

The public health emergency caused by COVID-19 emphasized the need for solutions that can adapt to shifting demand and reduce dependency on human involvement. Even when considering the creation of Covid vaccines, it’s difficult not to consider the speed, safety, and hazards involved in the entire process.

Given the stakes involved, as well as the fact that most vaccines take anywhere from 7 to 15 years to develop, with each step of vaccine development lasting several years, clinical trials were under tremendous pressure to deliver new vaccines fast while emphasizing important safety and monitoring requirements.

While a quicker time-to-market is a remarkable achievement, as we saw with the Covid vaccine, workload and case numbers surged tremendously, while budgets throughout the sector shrank due to the pandemic’s economic effect. In such a situation, automation is unquestionably the way to go.

The Nature of the Pharma Industry calls for intelligent technology

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry was undergoing digital transformation. However, this was often sluggish and could not keep up like other industries. Only two decades ago, much of the automation in the pharmaceutical industry were mostly ad hoc setups, designed by engineers with limited expertise. Yet, the industry quickly realized the power of digital transformation and the various benefits it offered.

Today, automation is widely used in the pharmaceutical industry and is a key contributor to its economic success. In labs, for example, robots are employed to replace monotonous, manual activities, while pharmacy automation has made it possible to scan prescriptions and deliver the proper drug with considerably fewer mistakes than human pharmacists. Without a doubt, digitalization and automation will improve quality and compliance by decreasing manual errors and unpredictability.

The recent vaccine production has also placed a renewed emphasis on safety and decision-making. The very idea is to shift safety from a reactive to a proactive approach by having team members do parallel activities. Drugs may now be supplied with more safety information than ever before, thanks to early detection. In addition, understanding the dangers and the safety profile of medicines also leads to safer drugs.

How factory automation solutions counter existing problems with production

Automation is deeply ingrained in core aspects like Active Pharma Ingredients (API) and a slew of other secondary aspects like packaging and distribution. Robots are now increasingly being used in pharma production activities like dispensing, kit assembling, sorting, etc. These automated processes are coming together to provide the industry with greater flexibility, faster turnaround times, and cheaper operational costs.

The supply chain and logistics sector are another area where automation has a significant influence. Medicine distribution has grown more efficient thanks to the increased deployment of RFID technology, electronic batch records, and workflow management. Due to this, errors and flaws in the logistics system may also be quickly identified and corrected.

As a result, thanks to complicated algorithms that can estimate demand beforehand, proper medications can now reach the most vulnerable patients at the right time.

Here are a few examples of how factory automation solutions counter existing problems with production.

  • Blister OCR after packing

A blister pack is a clear, molded piece of plastic used to package tiny products like tablets. In this type of packing, pharmacies typically portion and pack a patient’s prescription medications according to weekdays and times of day, which are then sorted into individual clear packets (blisters). This way, it’s easy to see when medicines should be taken and whether they’ve all been taken correctly. However, stereo print and inkjet printing on these products often do not have uniform characters and sizes, resulting in poor repeatability and readability. With the help of automated solutions like reading tools enabled by OCR (Optical Character Recognition), such difficult applications can now be conducted much more conveniently.

  • OCR on label and ribbon

Text sizes are often inconsistent on medicine packets, and prints are usually skewed and incomplete. Traditional machine vision can only detect the presence or absence of printing. This is where a reading tool that leverages OCR (Optical Character Recognition) comes in handy, as it allows you to read the text on a package at a faster rate.

  • Vial counting on trays

A vial is a tiny container that is typically used to store liquid medicines. Before moving on to secondary packing, filled vials and ampoules must be counted properly to assure complete accountability. Manual examination of vial trays, however, has often resulted in inaccurate findings. Because of the product’s transparency and positional variation, counting them using typical machine vision technologies is also tough.

Machine vision cameras and other automated systems can easily count, and check trayed items, removing the need for manual inspections. This not only saves money, time, and resources that would otherwise be spent on costly reworks, but it also speeds up the production line.

  • Vial Cap Dent and Sealing Inspection

The lack of a consistent pattern of defects or dents on vials often makes it difficult to spot these defects. This difficulty is exacerbated by traditional machine vision. Automated solutions such as high-powered sensors, smart lighting systems, and clever algorithms, however, effectively detect errors at an early stage itself, thereby preventing them from progressing to the next step of processing. This also avoids the issue of expensive drugs being put into faulty containers.

Barcode: Bringing you the best Factory Automation Solutions for a seamless transition

Pharma businesses are increasingly collaborating with external solution providers to integrate automated solutions. Bar Code India (BCI), India’s leading provider of software solutions across sectors, provides pharma firms with the best factory automation solutions. Having worked with leading pharma companies, BCI recognizes the pharmaceutical industry’s demands and develops specialized solutions to enhance efficiency in pharma production processes.

Click here to learn more about BCI.

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